Don't be SAD: How to manage Seasonal Affective Disorder

Integrative Health Clinic, Victoria BC

Do you notice yourself feeling heavy, irritable, tired and underwhelmed as the days grow shorter? Try as you might, do you not really start to perk up until the sun starts shining again in the spring? 

Here in British Columbia it's not uncommon for folks to experience Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, a form of seasonal depression. The coast of BC in particular has to contend with a lot of rain and unbroken grey skies, sometimes for months at a time, and it can take a big toll on the psyche.

Here at Tall Tree we're committed to holistic health, and mental health is its cornerstone. Be they physiotherapists, naturopaths, massage therapists or chiropractors, our staff would recommend (and do their best to follow) the following tips to naturally lessen the impact of SAD during the long, grey winter months on the West Coast.

1. Take advantage of natural Vitamin D whenever possible (a.k.a. get outside!)

Most people who suffer from SAD attribute it to the lack of sunlight and the shorter exposure to daylight. While lack of bright sunlight can have a definite effect on the mood, accessing daylight on even the greyest day can short circuit SAD.

Want to work in a little more daylight into your life? Try taking a walk on your lunch break, walking or cycling to work, working next to a window whenever possible, and spending at least part of your weekend walking in the city or, preferably, the woods. Remind yourself that, even though you may get up when it's dark and drive home when it's dark, there's still some light to be had.

2. Supplement with Vitamin D

Vitamin D, naturally transmitted through sunlight, can be hard to come by naturally in the winter. Supplementation, however, has been shown to have a positive impact on SAD sufferers. Visit your pharmacy or natural health store to find out which Vitamin brands are reliable (unfortunately, many over-the-counter supplements contain a great deal of filler and don't actually offer the benefits they claim). Dosage may vary from person to person, but a standard dosage for Vitamin D is around 600 IU. 

3. Try light therapy

This doesn't mean hitting the tanning bed! You'll want to talk to your naturopath before going down this road, but there are numerous ways health care practitioners are using simple UV lighting to brighten up people's moods in the winter. Everything from visors, to lamps, to sunlight simulators (that gradually lighten your room in the morning to mimic dawn) are currently being employed, but, again, you'll want to consult with someone who knows more about the topic before you invest.

4. Take some time off

Most of us like to take our vacation time in the summer - especially in a place that boasts a gorgeous summer like Victoria. But taking a break in the fall or winter is a great way to reduce stress, create more joy and relaxation in your life, and manage your mental health. Even if you can't afford a sunny vacation in a tropical destination, a week free from the day-to-day pressures of life is likely to lift your mood and recharge your batteries.

5. Manage your sleep hygiene 

Increased or decreased sleep can be both a symptom of and contributor to SAD. It's important to be careful with your sleep, and practice good sleep hygiene. An hour or two before bed, turn off your devices, lower the lights, and settle in to a book or another non-stimulating activity. Keep a consistent bed time and, even on the hardest days, get up at a consistent hour. Sleep is largely governed by routine and habit, which can impact your natural rhythms, so pay close attention to your behaviour at bed time.

6. Exercise, exercise, exercise

At Tall Tree we definitely tend towards highly active lifestyles, and believe wholeheartedly in the power of exercise. Getting 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise 5 times a week will raise your endorphin levels, creating a natural anti-depressant response in the body. Combine this with tip #1 by going on a winter hike, taking a day on the ski hill, or simply going for a walk around your neighbourhood, and you'll be well on your way to beating the winter blues.